Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Cumulus clouds September.

As we edge toward autumn, change is in the air. The heat of summer slowly dies away, replaced by crisp, foggy mornings and cool breezes. Clouds roll in, sometimes huge, fluffy white mountains, other times layers of gray filled with rain.blackberry jelly and green beans

Leaves begin to turn color. We harvest the garden—plucking the last few ears of corn, a few fat cucumbers hiding under the leaves, red and golden cherry tomatoes, and, of course, zucchini, which is not yet ready to call it quits. Apples redden on the tree. The pantry shelves hold jars of beans, the freezer bags of corn. Blackberry jam and jelly await winter breakfasts. Our garden has done well.

Liberty applesA hush settles over the street, as children head off to school. I drink in the quiet and let it settle into my soul. September. Even the sound of it is soft and flowing, like the afternoon breeze as it rustles through the treetops. Like a treasure you hold, not in your hands, but in your heart.September sunset

And in the evening we stroll down the street as darkness falls earlier and the sun sets in a bright sky.

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Pink dogwood Pink reminds me of little girls in frilly princess dresses playing with their baby dolls. Growing up as a decidedly unfeminine girl, I’ve always preferred green and blue—or red and yellow when it comes to flowers. However, this time of year, I can look out the window while I work and see our pink dogwood in full bloom, sometimes with a bright blue sky behind it for contrast. However, even on a dull, cloudy day, the bright pink blossoms light up the yard. We had a pink dogwood in our front yard when I was a kid; I loved it then and I love it now.Wild bleeding heart flowers

Other pinks decorate the spring landscape. In our woods the wild bleeding hearts bow their purple-pink heads beneath the trees, delicate and beautiful. A few brief days and they are gone—a reminder of the transitory nature of love and life.

apple blossom budsThen there are the white pinks—the subtle pink of apple blossom buds before the little white shells of petals open, fragrant with promise. And the white rhododendron whose flowers turn pinker with age before dropping off and giving way to new green leaves. Honeysuckle and columbine. Not to mention the lavish display of cherry blossoms and the azalea by our front porch that will, in a week or two, be thick in pinkness.;ink rhododendron

Spring puts forth such a display of beauty, a reminder of rebirth, of new life, of the amazing gifts that we are given to enjoy—and to share.

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Summer has ended, but nice weather lingers on. In my garden, that means tomatoes. The plants I put in late, due to a long, wet spring, have had time to grow and produce their best crop in years. The vines are like a Christmas tree hung with red globes.

Peas are a distant memory, the pole beans were recently pulled out, and half the corn stalks lie bent to the ground, presumably demolished by a hungry raccoon family. Even my prolific zucchini plants have wilted during the cold of night. But the tomatoes spill out across each other and into the aisle, dotted with orange and red rubies that glitter in the sunshine. I munch on sun-warmed cherry tomatoes as I pick my crop. What could be tastier?

Tomatoes pile up on my kitchen counters. I slice them for sandwiches, put out bowls of cherry tomatoes for snacks, add them to recipes, but I can’t use them all up. So I pull out the canner, dusty on the back shelf, and get to work. And finally those juicy, red tomatoes fill pint jars, ready to brighten my pantry with their bright colors. Summer in a jar.

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The years just keep rolling along, and spring arrives, more or less on schedule, about this time every year–and about six months earlier or later in the southern hemisphere–moving around the world and never holding still for long. We get a couple of days of warm weather, and everyone is out mowing lawns, some for the first time this year. Pollen is in the air, fertilizing trees and flowers, bringing sneezes and congestion to the allergy-prone. Smiles spring up with the flowers and sunshine.

Dreams of vegetable gardens and flower beds stir in my head. Perhaps this year I will keep the garden weeded. Perhaps this year I will get everything planted on time. Perhaps this year…

In the springtime, all is possible. Soon enough reality will set in, and I will remember how hard it is to keep up with flowers and vegetables and, most of all, weeds. But for today, I prefer to hold on to my fantasies. Springtime is a time for dreaming.

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Fern garden

While in Pittsburgh, we visited a place any plant lover would enjoy: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Located in Schenley Park, not far from my son and daughter-in-law’s house, the conservatory houses a wide variety of plants, including one whole room dedicated to ferns, another full of orchids, and a walk-through butterfly garden. Much of the garden is indoors, which was providential when a sudden thunderstorm dumped what seemed like a whole ocean of water in minutes. Fortunately, we had stepped back inside the building just before the storm hit.

just before the storm

So much rain fell that the tropical rain forest area–which apparently had open vents–had streams of water pouring down and running along the path. We ended up saving that area for last, after the rain stopped.

Orchid room

Other areas of the conservatory included a desert room, a sunken garden, an edible garden area, Palm Court, a couple of formal gardens using recycled materials, and outdoors a small Japanese garden, a children’s discovery garden, and a vegetable garden. According to the map, there is another large outdoor garden area, but we didn’t have time to see everything.

Desert room

Phipps Conservatory is an amazing place. If you ever visit Pittsburgh, I recommend checking it out.

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I went out to prune the raspberries—an annual February ritual—cutting out the old wood that bore last summer’s berries and gently bending this year’s stalks between the wires. I still needed to tie the longer ones down, but something distracted me. What was that on top of the old wooden post at the end of the berry bushes?

I moved closer to discover a miniature forest of lichens and moss covering the top of the post. Tufts of spring green moss with tiny brown threads coming up holding what I assumed to be spores. Piles of wavy green with pale green trumpets rising straight up from the middle. And pouring down the sides, curly white (and gray underneath) patches, like crumpled wrapping paper torn and strewn about the post. I went on to examine the other posts. Each carried its own special garden of lichens.

Raspberries forgotten, I raced inside for my camera. I spent the next several minutes trying my best to capture the tiny world atop the posts and wrap it into little boxes of beauty.

Nature always amazes me, most of all in the rich detail seen in even the smallest organisms. Whether in a chickadee, a swelling bud on the plum tree, or a tiny forest of lichen, the complexity—and the beauty—is more than I can even imagine.

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October Corn

We ate the last of our homegrown corn—fresh from the garden, kernels the color of sunshine and cumulus clouds. I have never eaten fresh corn on the cob in October before. What a strange year this has been!

 Usually the corn is planted in May, or the very start of June at the latest. This year we visited our son in Japan in early May. When we came home, we were met by rain, rain that continued through May, through much of June, right up to July. We always joke that good weather in western Oregon begins July 5th. This year it was actually true. We planted the corn on June 23rd, when the clouds cleared for a few brief days.

 The type of corn we generally plant, Sugar Dots, sprouts well in cool soil—perfect for May/early June planting in our area. It does not sprout as well in late June. And so it came up here and there with long bare patches between that later filled with grass and weeds. And as it slowly grew, we wondered if corn on the cob would even make it to the dinner table this year.

 Then came September, warm and beautiful for the most part, and October with few of its usual rains. Ears grew and swelled on the stalks, as the peas and beans nearby died off. And finally—ripe corn! Not enough to freeze, but enough for several nice meals. And it was very good!

What garden surprises have you experienced this year?

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Weeds. Every year I try to keep them under control in my garden. Almost every year I fail. I think there was one year, back in the 1990’s somewhere, when I actually conquered the weeds. I laid out thick layers of newspaper between the rows of vegetables and piled straw on top. I diligently pulled up weeds within the rows while still small. The vegetables grew strong and healthy without those nasty weeds to eat up their nutrients and drink their water. My garden looked like something out of Organic Gardening magazine with those neat straw walkways and thick green rows of veggies. I loved to go outside and stare at my beautiful garden.

This year I tried. I did lay out rows of newspaper and straw–in most of the rows. Unfortunately, the newspaper was not thick enough, and grass grew right through it. And I didn’t keep up with the weeds and grass within the rows. Now I have high arching grass stalks thick with seeds sticking out from the rows and filling the aisles between. A few blackberry vines have crept through the fence to mix with the weeds in those areas I didn’t get covered. No magazine centerfold for this year’s garden!

Other weeds have invaded my life recently, weeds just as tough to eradicate and more dangerous. We know them by the name of cancer, or carcinoma, if you want to get fancy. I take better care of my body than my garden, but they managed to sneak in anyway–fortunately, in small numbers. With the help of doctors, nurses, and other support people, I plan to pull every one of these weeds and not allow them back in. This gardening venture should be quite a learning experience, but I do not plan to write more about it on this blog. I have begun a second blog to document this journey and the spiritual lessons I learn through it. If you wish to share that journey with me, feel free to drop by at http://stormsparrow.wordpress.com/. I welcome the company!

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As the last shriveled Gravensteins fall from our tree, something unexpected is happening. The apple tree is blossoming. Sweet white flowers are opening up here and there on the tree—not the full-fledged bloom of spring, but something I have never seen at the end of summer. What is going on here?

 Perhaps it’s the odd weather we have had. Cool, damp weather hung on until July. Then we had a week or two of summer, before cool mornings returned, followed by pleasant, but not particularly summery afternoons. I have had to close the windows at night recently, something I rarely do in summer. Perhaps this weather has confused the poor apple tree into believing that spring returned ahead of schedule.

 Still, I rather like the contrast of fresh new blossoms coexisting with shriveled old apples. For those of us who are closer to autumn than spring—okay, maybe already into autumn—it gives an offbeat message of hope. Life needn’t be all dried-up apples. New ideas, new projects, new avenues for creativity can come into our lives at any age. What new blossoms might I nourish in my life?

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Blueberry muffins! I never thought I would actually taste a homemade blueberry muffin this year, but the time has finally come. The wild blackberries are ripening, giving those starving birds something else to devour besides my shrinking blueberry crop. Yesterday I slipped under the almost useless netting to pick the few blueberries still clinging to the bushes. Most years I would come away from a picking session with several quarts of berries. Last night I was happy to find enough for one and a half small containers–perhaps 3-4 cups total. Enough for a batch of muffins, with a few left over to toss atop our cereal.

Such berries could not be wasted. I searched online for a special muffin recipe. Blueberries and lemon sounded good. Perhaps some sour cream, too, my housemate suggested. After several minutes, I came across the perfect recipe, including all three requested ingredients. Next into the kitchen to mix it all up. I stuck the pans in the oven and waited, while enticing aromas began to fill the air.

Finally the buzzer went off. Out came the muffins, creamy colored with dark purple patches of berry goodness. Delicious! Maybe even worth the long wait.

There will be no more blueberry muffins this year. Only a few straggling berries remain on the bushes. However, the wild blackberries have gone crazy, growing high and wide and filled with fruit. Soon, very soon, blackberry pie will be on the menu!

Recipe for Lemon Blueberry Muffins

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